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Blue Ribbon for Baker


For an agency that writes press releases to tout its sales of high-end booze, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s newfound concern about people who brew beer or make wine in their garage, with no intention of selling their wares, strikes us as passing strange.

And preposterous.

How better to describe OLCC’s new interpretation of an old state law, one result of which is that the Oregon State Fair has told homebrewers and budding vintners to keep their concoctions home this year.

The Fair, by the way, has managed to put on the wine-making contest for the past 31 years, and the beer event for 22 years, without causing OLCC or any other state agency any apparent anxiety.

What happened, according to OLCC, is that the Deschutes Brewery in Bend asked an agency employee this spring whether homebrewers could bring their beers to an event.

OLCC forwarded the query to the Oregon Department of Justice, which reviewed Oregon Revised Statute 471.403.

That nearly 80-year-old law prohibits anyone who isn’t licensed by the state from making alcoholic beverages.

The law, however — and here we’re quoting — “does not apply to the making or keeping of naturally fermented wines and fruit juices or beer in the home, for home consumption and not for sale.”

By the estimation of the Justice Department, though, that law, besides banning the sale of home-made alcohol, means that such substances must be consumed at home.

That interpretation convinced State Fair officials to call off this year’s beer and wine contests.

Fair officials figured that beer and wine contest entrants, since they’re brewing beer or making wine for the contest rather than for home consumption, would run afoul of the law.

Managers of some county fairs, by contrast, intend to accept entries for their beer and wine contests unless OLCC tells them not to.

Baker County, for instance, intends to proceed with its home-brewed beer contest, Fair Manager Colleen Taylor said on Monday.

Brewers must submit their entries by this Thursday, and judging is scheduled for Friday, Taylor said.

(The Fair itself is scheduled from Aug. 4-7.)

We tip our hats — or, more aptly, clink our pint glasses — to Baker County.

The notion that that ancient state law was intended to ensure no homemade beer or wine was ever imbibed outside a home is ludicrous.

We have no quibble with the “not for sale” part of that law.

Regulating the sale of alcohol is a legitimate role for government. And it seems obvious to us that that was the guiding principal behind ORS 473.403, and not the silly goal of making sure nobody ever goes out on the lawn to quaff a bottle of home-brewed hefeweizen.

And unless contestants are bribing the judges, we don’t see how a contest at a summer fair constitutes a sale.

If, as seems to be the case with the Justice Department and OLCC, you interpret “in the home” in the most literal sense, then a brewer couldn’t even step outside onto his porch to sample his latest ale.

In addition to the effects on the State Fair, some amateur brewers who belong to homebrewing clubs say they’re worried that the law also forbids “testing night” events. Those events, popular with such clubs, are when members bring samples of their latest batches to one club member’s home so as to compare techniques and results.

Despite our disdain for this situation, we don’t mean to unfairly malign OLCC.

The agency, after all, was only reacting to a report from the Department of Justice, which presumably employs more lawyers than OLCC does.

And OLCC, to its credit, is working with legislators to craft revisions to the law that would, or so we hope, exempt homebrew contests, club events and the like.

The Legislature could make those changes when it convenes in January.

In the meantime, though, OLCC would gain some admirers — us, for instance — through the simple measure of treating this year’s State Fair and other contests precisely as it has for the past three decades.

That is, to leave them alone.

Oregon, after all, boasts a number of cases in which brewers, having honed their skills in their garages, started multimillion-dollar businesses.

What a pity it would be if this little legal limbo snared the next Widmer Brothers.

 
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